KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Prominent local artist Anurendra Jegadeva's "I is for Idiot" painting that was seized by the police on Thursday was not shown to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture's screening panel, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said today.
Nazri said that upon discovering the painting which had allegedly "insulted" Islam, his ministry had immediately ordered its withdrawal from an exhibition held to mark the 50th Malaysia Day.
Nazri appeared to suggest that there was dishonesty in that the painting was allegedly slipped into the exhibition without the knowledge of the screening committee under the National Visual Arts Gallery.
"In this instance, it was not shown to the committee, it didn't go through the committee.
"So when the exhibition was approved, that item was entered, maybe the person in charge was not honest," Nazri told reporters after launching the 50th anniversary of the National Museum.
When asked if all artworks that are exhibited in the country have to first go through the ministry's committee for approval, Nazri agreed, likening it to "censorship".
Nazri said the matter should be left to the police, who are now probing the painting made by Anurendra four years ago following complaints lodged against it.
The minister also said he found the artwork to be "offensive" on "first look".
The M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia exhibition is organised by the National Visual Arts Gallery, which comes under Nazri's Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
The exhibition at Publika, Solaris Dutamas saw over 40 art galleries nationwide participating in it.
Yesterday, Anurendra explained in a statement that "I is for Idiot" — one of the 26 works that make up his “Alphabet for the Middle Aged Middle Classes” series — was intended to express his feeling of solidarity with the Iraqi people during the American conflict in Iraq.
The painting had come under intense criticism from some pro-Umno bloggers who took exception to the mirrored inscription of the Arabic “basmala” that is part of the Islamic phrase commonly translated as
“In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
Anurendra, popularly known as J. Anu, explained that it was meant to depict a certain moment in world history when everything “seemed upside down and inside out”, denying any malicious, evil, or mischievous intent to insult or belittle Islam.
The local artist also apologised if the painting had “caused offence to anyone”, explaining that he had never intended to offend fellow Malaysians.
On Thursday, police came to the exhibition to speak to Anurendra and take photographs of the allegedly “offensive” painting.
The painting was removed by the police, and the others in the installation of 26 in total have since been taken down from the exhibition.
The exhibition which started on Monday will end on September 17, a day after Malaysia Day.